When Being On-Time Means Everything: How Important is Punctuality to Culture?

How does your culture value time?

Are they more often punctual or late?

Do people care?

Time is valued differently across cultures. In some places, like Switzerland or Germany, punctuality is important. Tardiness is unacceptable and often viewed as disrespectful.

In such cultures, daily schedules, goals, and decision-making processes are dictated by time.

Some cultures, on the other hand, don’t stress punctuality. They might be an hour late, a day late, a week late.  And that’s a-okay. Time is not ruled by a schedule, and neither is business.

This can lead to huge headaches in cross-cultural business. When one culture’s concept of time is not the same as your own, how do you deal?

We’ll discuss that over the next few weeks. For now, let’s take a look at why time is viewed differently across cultures.

Finding Cultural Equilibrium

Is our valuation of time deeply engrained in our values? Or is it simply a reaction to others’ tardiness?

A 2002 study on punctuality in culture, entitled, “A Cultural Trait as Equilibrium,” concludes that punctuality is largely reactionary:

“…punctuality may be simply an equilibrium response of individuals to what they expect others to do. The same society can get caught in a punctual equilibrium or a non-punctual equilibrium.”

In other words, individuals of a society may collectively habit-form according to punctuality or tardiness, based on what they expect from their peers. Then this habit becomes a cultural norm.

This study suggests that such habits “could be subject to evolutionary erosion or bolstering.” The researchers consider a society’s punctuality/tardiness norm is both a shared social trait and an individual reaction to our expectations of others, adjusting our behaviors to arrive at equilibrium.

This makes sense. After all, have you ever had a group of friends that were perpetually late and, in knowing that, you found yourself arriving for planned meetups later and later than the set time.

“Fashionably late” is a term for a reason. Who wants to be the first one to arrive, the longest to wait? How unfashionable.

The question is, what came first, the chicken or the egg? Did society’s general values about time inform the initial tardiness/punctuality that evolved and became a norm? Or did the values evolve as the norm became more, well, normal?

The Clocks Run On-Time…Literally

While cultural studies tend to delve into the intangible nature of cultural attitudes and values to explain behavior, some behaviors may result from very practical matters.

One interesting theory that developed from a 1980 study on punctuality pattern differences between the United States and Brazil is that Brazilian watches were simply not as reliable, which may have led to less stress on punctuality in Brazilian culture.

When researchers studied various watches in the United States and Brazil, they found evidence to support the theory that “public clocks and personal watches [are] less accurate in Brazil than in the United States.”

An interesting hypothesis, and not a conclusion you’d immediately jump to.

Are Swiss more punctual, because their clocks are notoriously accurate? Or are their clocks notoriously accurate, because they value punctuality?

Do German trains run on time, because their tickers do?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss culture and its relation to time. How it impacts everyday life, communication, orientation, and business relations. Stay tuned.

Corporate Social Responsibility Model: Changing the Way Corporate Giants Do Business

Enhancing education, partnering with the World Wildlife Fund, committing to Conservation International’s sustainability efforts.

These are just some ways in which big corporations are leaning hard on a corporate social responsibility business model.

Last week, we talked about social responsibility and how it can be passive or active.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an active approach in which businesses consciously change the way they do business in order to positively impact society.

CSR Objectives

There are two main motives to CSR:

  1. To improve quantitative social aspects – including the company’s societal impact
  2. To improve qualitative social aspects – including efficient employee management and processes

This relatively new concept of CSR has evolved as shareholders have. Today’s shareholders are often concerned in a company’s ripple-effect – its impact on the environment and society – rather than simply on the bottom line.

Industrial repercussions are at the forefront of the social conscience, thus shareholders are more apt to hold a corporation responsible for environmental and social impact.

This is not an individualist approach to business; it’s a collectivist approach.

personal values societal resp.jpg

As you can see in the chart above, rule-based/individualist cultures lean towards personal responsibility, while relationship-based cultures lean towards societal responsibility.

In this way, you can see how economic management business models can benefit from cultural values other than our own.

CSR injects rule-based cultures with relationship-based cultural values.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

Mandated CSR

In some cases, governments mandate corporate social responsibility.

India, for example, required that companies donate 2% of net profits to charitable organizations in 2014, becoming the first country to enact such legislation.

The law required that a CSR board committee be established within the company, designating that 2% over the previous three years’ net profit to CSR. The board director would, at fiscal year’s end, review the company’s efforts to ensure compliance.

But, oftentimes, CSR is voluntary, as in the following cases.

Voluntary CSR

Microsoft’s Bill Gates is well known for his charitable efforts.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done a huge part in eradicating hunger and poverty.

The Microsoft company, itself, has focused its efforts on social responsibility, with the Reputation Institute’s Chief Research Officer, Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, stating:

“Microsoft is committed to enhancing education as a highly relevant global human issue – and, unlike Apple, operates as an open-source platform that fosters perceptions of good citizenship and good governance.”

Another example of CSR done right is the Danish company, Lego.

Lego promotes sustainability, partnering with the World Wildlife Fund to fulfill its “Build the Change” and “Sustainable Materials Center” initiatives.

In 2017, Lego extended this partnership, with goals to push global action on climate change and reduce manufacturing- and supply chain-CO2 emissions.

These are just two examples of CSR in action.

What do you think of corporations taking an active approach in positive social change? As a conscious consumer, does a corporation’s social responsibility influence your purchases?

Society Over Self: Collectivist Cultural Management

The core group in collectivist cultures is family.

And the definition of family differs across cultures, as we’ve previously discussed.

The West often considers the two-generational core to be “family,” while other cultures include extended relations – or even an entire village – under the umbrella.

Other “groups” in collectivist cultures include in-groups, like the company one works for, or society as a whole.

A group’s success and survival – whether the group is family, the village, the company, or society – ensures individual success and survival.

Because of this, harmony is valued in collectivist cultures, as is interdependence of individual members.

Children are socialized in groups early on in order to become interdependent.

Everyone depends on everyone else, because the group only survives as one.

Being recognized for individual achievement is almost unheard of; rather, collectivists work in tandem and share with group members – both their successes and their failures.

Group Loyalty = Self-Loyalty

In a collectivist culture, group loyalty is self-loyalty.

Think of it this way: society, a company, or a family is like a human body. Each member is a limb or an organ; each member is vital to the body’s function.

So, if one organ fails, the body fails.

If one limb is neglected, then the body isn’t functioning at its most optimal.

It’s with this mentality that collectivist cultures place a higher value on the group than the individual.

An individual’s personal goals and ambitions come second to the group’s overall success and well-being.

To return to our analogy, if a body’s personal goal or ambition was to win an arm-wrestling contest, so it pumped iron every day, focusing only on building up the biceps, but forgot about its legs or its core, then the arms might be able to succeed in meeting their ambition, but the rest of the body would suffer.

This is how collectivist societies view personal goals and ambitions.

Your arm (you, the individual) does not work alone.

A collectivist would sacrifice his own career goals for the sake of the group’s.

Society, First

When society comes first, self comes second.

This is one of the main reasons that in collectivist societies, management differs from individualist cultures.

Last week, we talked about how these differences clash through workplace incentives. “Employee of the Month” is one way in which management in individualist societies incentivize hard work.

But would this work in collectivist cultures? Not so much.

What would then?

We’ll talk about that more next week.